A critical comparison of offline focus groups, online focus groups and e-Delphi

Elisabeth Brüggen
Maastricht University

Pieter Willems


The rapid growth of the internet has opened up new opportunities for collecting and disseminating research information worldwide. Online surveys are becoming increasingly popular and have been researched widely (e.g. Deutskens et al. 2004,2006; Roster et al. 2004; Schillewaert & Meulemeester 2005). In contrast, little empirical research analyses online qualitative research techniques, though they offer various advantages, including lower costs, shorter project lead times, shorter field times, greater access to busy professionals, and international reach (Gaiser 1997; Chase & Alvarez 2000; Scholl et al. 2002; Hopewell 2007; Richardson 2007). However, critics also assert that qualitative research via the internet is simply not the same as traditional, face-to-face research. The most common and important criticism argues that online methods miss essential information from non-verbal communication, and reactions between respondents and the discussion leader, which has a negative impact on the quality and depth of data (Greenbaum 1998; Buhsmer 2000). In addition, the anonymity on the internet means that researchers can never take for granted that the respondent really is who he or she claims to be (Greenbaum 1998; Forrest 1999; Silverman 2002).